The question at the heart of Papillon is what attraction really means. Is love at first sight really a good start? Is love all about looks, and will beauty always win the day even if we like to pretend it doesn’t? Or can self-confidence, intelligence, and sincerity make someone beautiful? High school is a time of surface, where people are judged harshly by first impressions, but at the same time, it is a time of transformation, where everyone is trying to figure out just who they want to be. Ageha is beginning her transformation, but life has a way of throwing up roadblocks --- how she deals with them will be her true test.
Ageha feels she will never escape her twin’s shadow. Even though she and her identical sister, Hana, share the same basic looks, Hana is the school’s social butterfly, adored by all who see her, while Ageha fades into the shadows. The two were raised apart, one in the countryside and one in Tokyo, and in a question of nature versus nurture, they could not be more different. Hana inspires her sister at the same time as she sets a seemingly impossible standard --- how can Ageha compete with a girl whose glamour is so enchanting? Hana, even if she is dazzling, is not an angel --- she seems to thrive by outshining Ageha, and she relishes keeping Ageha in her place. Ageha, despite years of being a willing pawn in Hana’s little game, is beginning to think that it’s time to get a bit of the spotlight herself.
Ageha has one secret she hides from Hana --- her crush on her childhood friend Ryusei, a boy she adventured with during her life in the countryside as a tomboy when she was more worried about how to catch bugs than what a boy might think of her. Now that she’s found him again in high school, and he doesn’t connect this wallflower with the partner in crime of his summer vacations, she’s trying to figure out how to confess her feelings in just the right way. Enter Ichijiku, the oddball guidance counselor who, through various tricks and machinations, pushes Ageha to speak up before she loses her opportunity. His advice is sound, if presented in quirky ways, but through a series of misunderstandings and tricks, the worst happens: Ageha’s crush is announced to the entire school, including Ryusei, and she wants nothing more than to hide in her room for the rest of high school. She screws up her strength and faces her embarrassment head on, but what can she do when Hana decides that Ageha’s favorite is just the type of guy she’s looking for?
Ageha works for every teen who’s been outdone by a sibling and every girl who’s felt crushed by someone else’s obvious beauty. There’s a resignation that threatens to take over Ageha’s attitude, that she’s not worthy of much, and this first volume already has you wishing you could shake some sense into her --- happily, Ichijiku is there to do it for you.
Miwa Ueda’s Peach Girl is one of the first manga I ever read, and her style is over-the-top shojo, full of dewy, giant eyes, bursts of flowers, and dreamy guys. I admit, when I first attempted to read manga, Peach Girl is one of the titles I was a bit scared to open. Then Ueda sucks you in with expertly timed melodrama, and you just give up and read as many volumes as possible in one sitting to see what’s going to happen next. She knows her audience, and while she does trade in highs and lows of teenagers’ emotional lives, she also knows to keep just enough realism in there to make you care about her characters. A lot of the issues raised here are topics she covered in Peach Girl, but teens may not know the earlier series, and Del Rey has, as always, put together an above-standard volume.
Reviewed by Robin Brenner on October 14, 2008
Papillon, Volume 1